Written by Michael Stegner
When I first started hearing about Ernie Johnson from Detroit, all of my friends in the Cincinnati music scene couldn’t stop talking about them. “Mark my words, they’re going somewhere,” or “In five years, they will be national act” were just some of the types of remarks I was hearing about them. It took me a while before I finally caught one of their shows, and when I did, I was impressed to say the least. Between the fast driving drums that move their songs forward with a fierce energy, to the booming horns section that plays with the precision and energy of some of the greatest funk artists of all time, this band was indeed something to watch out for.
Since then, Ernie Johnson From Detroit has continued to establish a very loyal following through consistently performing top notch shows around Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. Once you have seen them play once, it is not easy to forget them. The image of all eight musicians in black jumpsuits (that’s right, they have matching outfits) will remain in your head as their jazzy licks, fast paced afrobeats and funky brass melodies play circles in your head.
When I set out to interview the band, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it, seeing as there are nine members. It actually wound up being easier than expected, you’ll see why…
Q: Thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me. I’ve been seeing and listening to you guys for over a year now, and I’ve always been curious about how your name came to be? None of the members of the band are actually named Ernie Johnson, and you aren’t from Detroit.
A: Ernie Johnson From Detroit is a state of mind, a feeling, an emotion. The name is a name just like any other name. You’re Ernie, I’m Ernie, we are all Ernie. Next question.
Q: How did you all meet, and when exactly did Ernie Johnson form?
A: We are all Cincinnati musicians who have all played in various bands and continue to play in various bands throughout the city. As each of our musical paths have crossed, we quickly realized that we had something special. Something just clicked with us musically, that we knew we needed to start writing and playing music together. The band started almost 3 years ago, with our first Cincinnati show on NYE 2015-16, a tradition that we have kept for 3 years straight and will hopefully continue to do in the years to come.
Q: With so many members in your band, I can imagine coordinating everybody’s schedule can be a bit difficult. How do you manage to keep up with everybody’s busy lives?
A: Luckily, everyone in the band is very committed to the success of the band. Organization is crucial in keeping everything moving in the right direction. Taking care of as much business type stuff before we enter the rehearsal room is key to keeping the band on task musically. When we are learning new music, everyone is taking the time to learn their parts on their own time, so when we are together, we can get right down to playing the material. We are also extremely lucky to have had amazing studios to rehearse in since we started the group.
Q: How has the Cincinnati community allowed you to grow as a band?
A: We have received so much love from the Cincinnati community from the beginning. We are very proud to be a part of the amazing music and arts community here. Our friends at Essential Productions have been a huge help putting us on some great shows and festivals early on, they are doing great things for the Cincinnati music scene. Dan Mccabe (owner of MOTR pub and Woodward Theater) has also been a great supporter, and has opened up many doors for us locally. We are collaborating with the Cindependent Film Festival this August, and have also consistently collaborated with our friends and local art collective, Bunk News. Most of all, the local fans have embraced and supported us. We love our home city!
Q: Your newest album, self titled Ernie Johnson From Detroit, just came out in June. How has that record been received by your fans so far, and how has releasing a new album impacted your summer tour?
A: I think the reaction from our fans has exceeded our expectations. We get feedback in person at our shows and online and it has been overwhelmingly positive. Our summer dates were pretty much already set prior to the album release, but we will have several regional fall tour dates announced soon in support of the album. You can expect to see us in West Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and more, very soon.
Q:What was the process of creating this album like?
A: We recorded the record in Dayton, OH at the legendary Cyberteknics Creative Studio where Sun and other Dayton funk bands recorded in the 70s and 80s. We recorded the record to 2 inch tape, completely analog. The only computers in the studio were our cell phones! When you walk into the studio, it is like going back in time. Even the Coke machine looked like it was from 1972! All of the gear had a story behind it. The keyboards, amps, drums, console; everything seemed to be born to live in this studio.
We came to the studio prepared and did the initial tracking in 2 days. The process was very rewarding and at times, very stressful. Recording to tape is not like recording digitally because you only have so much tape to work with. You can’t do 10 takes of a song and choose the best one later. It forces everyone to really be on their game. Once the initial recordings were finished, we sent them to neo-soul pioneer and Grammy-award winning producer/engineer and all around analog wizard, Russel Elevado, to be mixed. Once Russel worked his magic, they were then sent to frequent Daptone Records collaborators, Golden Mastering in California, where they were mastered to vinyl by April Golden. The process has been very rewarding, especially since we produced the record completely on our own. You can order a copy on vinyl via our Bandcamp page, as well as through local Cincinnati record store badasses, Plaid Room Records via their website. It is also available digitally on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, and all other places where you can find music digitally.
Q:What are some of the things on the horizon for EJFD?
A: We have some late summer/early fall festivals coming up, including Resonance Music and Arts Festival at Legend Valley in Thornville, OH, September 20-23, 2018. We will also be hitting the road this fall in support of our new record. All of our tour dates are listed on our website at www.erniejohnsonfromdetroit.com. We will also be throwing a massive party with our 1st annual “Pelicans on the Breeze” boat cruise up the Ohio river on September 28, 2018. Tickets are on sale via cincyticket.com. Please check our website and social media pages for information. You don’t want to miss this one!